Cecily Brown – the year’s top-selling contemporary artist

[15 Aug 2023]

Auction sales of works by British artist Cecily Brown have been particularly dynamic this year, substantially boosted by the MET’s exhibition of her work in New York. With eight paintings already sold for 7-digit prices since January, 2023 promises to be a memorable year for this major artist.

Born in London in 1969 in London, Cecily BROWN studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art at the height of the YBA effervescence promoted by Charles Saatchi. But Brown felt little affinity with that somewhat hermetic circle of artists and moved to Manhattan in 1994 where her work was exhibited at Deitch Projects in SoHo in 1998.

The expressionist vocabulary of her painting – evoking the spontaneity and ‘gestuality’ of the great American Expressionists like Willem de Kooning – immediately resonated with New York’s art world. Although critics were not unanimous in their praise, the ardor of her painting, the energy of the figures captured in a material that dominates and distorts them, and the explicitly erotic nature of some of her paintings definitely elicited reactions from their viewers. At the same time, Brown, like her compatriot Jenny Saville in London, was contributing to a revival of figurative painting that turned out to be particularly fruitful.

In 2000, the Gagosian hosted its first solo show of Brown’s work in SoHo, while Vanity Fair magazine published a portrait of the artist lying on the floor in front of one of her paintings wearing a T-shirt with a dollar sign. The doors to art market stardom were flung wide open!

From then on, her work quickly entered public collections and experienced immediate success on the auction market. In November 2000, her first paintings offered for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York doubled their estimates to reach prices ranging from $60,000 to $90,000. In 2001, a first painting already exceeded $100,000 at auction: Cecily Brown was just 32 years old.

Cecily Brown has had an unusual career: launched into a lucrative career by the Gagosian in her early thirties, she left the powerful gallery after a 15-year alliance.

The Gagosian gallery quickly raised her prices into 6-digit territory and the secondary market followed: in 2007, Phillips de Pury & Company hammered a first result above the million dollars threshold ($1.1million) for a gigantic painting titled The Girl who had Everything (1998). Cecily Brown found herself being marketed as one of the most indispensable Contemporary artists of her time and her prices continued to rise. Today, The Girl who had Everything is worth nearly $6 million.


Evolution of the price of The Girl who had Everything: +427% in 15 years

Oil on canvas, 1998 (254.3 x 279.4 cm)

November 2007 > $1.1 million at Phillips New York

June 2017 > $2.4 million at Sotheby’s London

March 2022 > $5.8 million at Christie’s London

Despite ending a 15-year relationship with the Gagosian in 2014, Cecily Brown’s reputation and prices continued to grow. Today, at 53, her work is the subject of a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a rare honor for a British artist since the last living British artist to receive such a tribute was Lucian Freud in the mid-1990s. The MET’s retrospective is entitled Death and the Maiden (after Franz Schubert’s string quartet no. 14) and has quite clearly stimulated her market since the beginning of this year with eight paintings fetching 7-digit results between January and July 2023. Her auction record ($6.7 million) has nearly been beaten twice in what is already shaping up to be the artist’s best-ever year on the auction market.

Cecily Brown – annual auction turnover: 2023 is already a record year

Currently in 30th position in Artprice’s provisional ranking of artists by their annual auction turnover, Cecily Brown is leading the art auction market’s gradual gender-rebalancing. Her prices and the enthusiasm her work elicits prove that female artists are beginning to achieve price levels comparable to those of their male counterparts.

Moreover, her 2023 auction results (January – July) are much better than those hammered for well-established icons of Contemporary Art (artists born after 1945) like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, an important milestone for Brown who in 2015 told Julie L. Belcove of Vulture magazine “I’m actually very frustrated for women in the art world right now. I feel there’s a major glass ceiling. There are so many fantastic women artists, and they don’t do as well as their male counterparts in some areas. It’s crass to talk about the market, but that’s the obvious one. Maybe in another couple of decades, it will be truly equal.” Gender parity is certainly not yet a reality, but the recognition and appreciation of an artist like Cecily Brown is helping to change things.

Cecily Brown’s position in our global ranking of artists by their annual auction turnover